June Edmonds: Full Spectrum
Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles
September 25 through December 11, 2021
June Edmonds: Joy of Other Suns
September 4 through October 30, 2021
BY LITA BARRIE, October 2021
June Edmonds is known for large-scale, dynamic abstract paintings that pay homage to African American figures and historical events. The concurrence of her 40-year survey, June Edmonds: Full Spectrum at Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University and an exhibition of her recent work, Joy of Other Suns, at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is perfectly timed - during the current renaissance of Black art - for overdue critical recognition of her constantly evolving aesthetic style. The survey is accompanied by a 64-page catalogue with essays by Dr. Jill Monitz and Laband Art Gallery Director, Karen Rapp, that will be launched at the gallery in November and ensure her position in African-American art history.
Edmonds has always been interested in both abstraction and figuration, and her early pieces from the 1980s - made when she was an undergraduate - incorporate mark-making and geometric patterns in domestic scenes. These early paintings are influenced by David Hockney, Varnette Honeywood, Charles White, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. They reveal the vitality of her color sensibility in the wide range of color variations she juxtaposes: from neutral to brown skin tones, combined with bright tinted hues on the interior walls and the intricately patterned textile design of the drapes, tablecloths and garments. These domestic scenes are based on sketches she would make whenever her friends were around. Hanging on the colored walls are miniature replicas of paintings by her favorite artists, while furniture legs turn into mark-making and the long distant view from a window recalls Hockney’s use of deep spatial perspective. This is the first time Edmonds’ early works have been shown alongside her recent works, and this fosters a dialogue which allows viewers to trace the genesis of recurrent leitmotifs in her signature abstract style back to the abstract details in early figurative paintings.
The survey includes the Black Drawings from 1997 which reveal Edmonds’ process of transitioning to abstraction, although they still contain figurative elements. Her interest in dynamic movement, which became a signature feature of her later abstract paintings, comes to the fore in the sweeping gestural lines in these transitional studies. When I spoke with Edmonds, she said, “I wanted to create something that didn't exist.” Her commitment to a process of discovery is informed by her meditative practice, based on A Course of Miracles. Edmonds says, “I liked its independence and the self-study lessons because they are compatible with other beliefs.”
Edmonds’ beautiful Energy Wheel paintings are based on her meditation practice and research about Indian Kundalini. She became fascinated with concentric circles that represent both DNA and kinship and recur in many different cultures. Using thick impasto paint and mark-making, inspired by her love of Alma Thomas and Joan Mitchell, she embarked on a series of overlapping concentric circles. Each circle is organized in precise color bands with intricate patterns based on Adinkra symbols from Ghana, used in fabric and pottery as evocative messages to convey wisdom. These circles contain tonal variations of a central bright color - pink, yellow, green or turquoise - that radiates outwards like a color wheel. This overlapping dynamic is used to create color juxtapositions that are orchestrated like a magnetic field, and keep the viewer’s eye moving with different repetitions of color, form and patterning.
Edmonds told me her work is based on a concept of “organized anxiety” that she learned from reading Mary Church Terrell, a prominent African American activist for civil rights and suffrage. This is a coping mechanism for dealing with the anxiety of living in a racist society, a concept that Edmonds has used symbolically in her precisely ordered paintings, particularly her Flag Paintings. This series pays homage to black women by using vertical bands to re-imagine the US flag in a spectrum of dark skin tones that embrace their presence in the search for the American dream they were promised, but tragically denied. Each work is associated with the story of an African American woman who played a significant role in standing up against racial discrimination, symbolized as columns of strength.
Edmonds' newest series, Joy of Other Suns at Luis de Jesus Los Angeles, is based on the ovular shape that appears in the intersection between overlapping circles. In sacred geometry, it is known as vesica piscis, and it symbolizes an interface or opening between the spiritual and physical worlds. While used in religious paintings, the form recurs through nature, and is also a vaginal shape that symbolizes life-giving feminine power. Edmonds abstracts this shape to honor the bravery of trailblazing African American women in her new series about the cyclical nature of Black Migration. The exhibition title is a reference to Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, in which she chronicles the untold stories of the six decades-long migration of Black citizens who fled the Jim Crow south for northern and western cities in search of a better life.
Large scale paintings bring this historical process to life in works that pay homage to the journeys of Bridget Biddy Mason, Maria Rita Quintero Valdez de Villa and Henrietta Van Horn Debose, each of whom were enslaved persons who later became pioneers and early Southern California landowners. These paintings honor their ambition, courage and legacy as entrepreneurial role models who achieved their dreams. The grand scale allows the viewer to feel as if they are part of the physical space occupied by the painting; yet viewed from a close perspective, these paintings reveal detailed mark-making that resemble roads and the journeys of black women they honor. Juxtapositions of color in these works also create complex feelings which a single color cannot evoke.
Edmonds’ concurrent exhibitions show how her visual language has developed through keen observation: from personal observation through meditation, to observation of others who have inhabited her domestic life, to observation of painting techniques used by African American artists who inspired her, and finally, to observation of paths created by trailblazing African American entrepreneurial female role models. By making figurative paintings in the 1980s when figuration was out of fashion, and pursuing abstraction just when Black figuration is taking the art world by storm, Edmonds continues to defy dominant trends in order to pursue her personal process of discovery based on close observation. Her vibrant paintings weave different stories together in inclusive abstract forms to emphasize process, presence and positivity. WM
Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.view all articles from this author